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Delinquent teens more likely to die violently as adults

© iStockphoto.com / S P Rayner © iStockphoto.com / S P Rayner

MONDAY, June 16, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Delinquent youth face a significantly increased risk for a violent death when they're adults, a new study finds.

Their rate of violent death was nearly twice as high as U.S. combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the researchers.

Among these delinquent teens, girls and Hispanics are most likely to die violently when they're adults, the investigators found.

The rate of violent death among delinquent females was nearly five times higher than for females in the general population. For males, the rate of violent death was nearly three times higher among delinquents than in the general male population. Rates among delinquent Hispanic females and males were nine and five times higher, respectively, than in the general population, the study revealed.

Alcohol abuse, selling drugs and gang involvement among teens were the three risk factors that predicted a violent death by age 34, according to the study published online June 16 and in the July print issue of Pediatrics.

"Our findings are shocking," study author Linda Teplin, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a university news release. "Death rates in our sample of delinquent youth, ages 15 to 19, are nearly twice those of troops in combat in wartime Iraq and Afghanistan," she said.

"Early violent death is a health disparity," Teplin added. "Youth who get detained are disproportionately poor and disproportionately racial and ethnic minorities. We must address early violent death the same as any other health disparity."

The study included more than 1,800 children, aged 10 to 18, detained at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago between 1995 and 1998. The study participants were interviewed, then followed for up to 16 years.

Of the 111 participants who died during the follow-up period, 68 percent were murdered and 91 percent of those murders were committed with a gun, the findings showed. Blacks were 4.5 times more likely to be murdered than whites.

Many youth who commit crimes have untreated psychiatric disorders, according to Teplin. For example, they may use drugs to self-medicate for depression, and then sell drugs to afford them, she explained.

"Prevention is key. We need to reduce the likelihood that youth will become delinquent. And, if they are arrested and detained, we need interventions to reduce violence. Otherwise, perpetrators often become victims," Teplin said.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about teen mental health.

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